Sexual assault, incest and chicken-f**kers

Part 1 of a gripping 2-part maxiseries!

To anyone who got here through a perverted google-search: you’ll have to wait until Part 2 to get the incest and chicken-f**king. Yeah, I’m a dirty little tease. Everyone else, jump on in.

A few days ago, I posted a review of The Essential Ant-Man, making hay out of Hank Pym’s domestic issues. My thesis was that ole High-pockets’ domestic abuse made him an irredeemable character. Domestic abuse, I claimed, left a moral stain on the character, one that could only be washed away by exceptional means.

Several commenters took me to task for this, pointing out various fictional examples where domestic abuse didn’t leave a moral stain on a character. Marc Singer even pointed to cases where sexual assault didn’t leave a moral stain.

So: mea culpa. I wuz wrong. Hardly an auspicious start to my future of blogging fame, stardom and all-night coke parties at Studio 54. But I still think I was onto something, just not the right thing. Stick with me while I try to get at the right thing, and ultimately tie it all back to comics.

First, I did conflate three different issues in my original review:

(1) domestic assault

(2) sexual assault

(3) violations of sexual morality.

(1) and (2) are easy enough to grasp. What’s (3)? Well, our culture–like any culture–has certain norms about what is and what isn’t appropriate sexual behaviour. Some of these norms are “moralized”–that is to say, among other things, considered to deserve harsh punishment. More on that in part 2.

I maintain that (3) really is generally treated as unforgivable in our culture, except in extraordinary circumstances. But I now admit that our culture equivocates on (1) and (2).

Consider sexual assault first. In most contexts, sexual assault is also a violation of sexual morality. For example, there’s an unsettling scene in Mike Leigh’s film Naked, where Jeremy/Sebastian rapes Sophie. [Uh, SPOILER, I guess] This rape is clearly also a violation of sexual morality, and therefore unforgivable. It underlines Jeremy’s diabolical nature, that he is utterly morally vile.

But commenter Marc Singer pointed to some fictional contexts where sexual assault doesn’t violate sexual morality. Notably, a certain kind of lurid romance novel where rape is presented as sexually liberating (this is also a motif in some erotica, although Marc is too much a gentleman to mention this).

Presumably the reason these fictional acts don’t violate sexual morality is that, in some sense, they aren’t really rape. Precisely because the action is presented as liberating, there’s some sort of idealized consent on the part of the victim. Now, I don’t want to dwell on the semantics of “rape”; someone could very well insist that those really are rapes, they’re just special kinds of rape. And how would we resolve this disagreement? My point is just that these kinds of fantasies, where rape can be “good”, are the exception in fiction rather than the rule. And they have certain kinds of constraints, e.g. the victim must be “liberated” by the act (whatever that means), must recognize that s/he has been liberated, must accept his/her liberation and so on.

As for domestic assault, the point I take from the comments is that domestic assault is rarely considered a violation of sexual morality. Where my review fell down is that I assumed otherwise. Wrong!

Why did I think domestic assault was a violation of sexual morality in the first place? Here’s where things get wonky, folks. The historian and philosopher of science Ian Hacking has some interesting material on the history of “child abuse” as a concept. One of his claims is that this concept didn’t exist until the 20th century. It was only in the 20th century that various interest groups promoted the idea of child abuse as a unified entity–a “natural kind”, as philosophers say–including both physical and sexual abuse.

The result of this conceptual development is that physical abuse of children has become even more morally potent. Sexual morality evokes powerful responses, and one of the strongest elicitors in our culture is sexual abuse of children. Seriously, apart from incest, I cannot think of a single sexual act you could perform that would be as morally outrageous as pederasty. You could peg the pope while forcibly tea-bagging the president, and it still wouldn’t seem as bad as sexually abusing a child.

Then again, I’m a lapsed Catholic and not American, so your mileage may vary.

Anyway, because sexual morality elicits such powerful emotions, some of that bleeds into our response to physical abuse of children. Hence physical abuse of children is now strongly moralized in our culture, too.

So I, rather dunder-headedly, got to thinking that the same might be true for domestic assault and general sexual assault. Maybe domestic abuse got some of that same moral charge from its sexual associations. And I was wrong. Duh. In the educated West, beating your wife is considered wrong. Just not as wrong as, say, tea-bagging the president.

Tune in later for part 2 where things get even wonkier, I talk about sexual morality in comics, plus: chicken-f**kers!

2 Responses to “Sexual assault, incest and chicken-f**kers”

  1. XyphaP Says:

    Huh. Not being familiar with Romance Novels, I was surprised when, in Lost Girls, two separate characters get unequivocally raped. They really do not want the sexual activity that’s occurring, but, still, the offensive party persists. When viewing those particularly offensive scenes as a genre trope, it suddenly makes more sense, as Moore then shows both characters’ increased sexual activities like an addiction.

    And I would say that domestic abuse is possibly a worse crime than sexual violation. It’s a problem of a relationship where the wife is downgraded often instead of once in a fell swoop. I didn’t get the sense from the comments that many people felt it wasn’t wrong, but that it has been more socially acceptable throughout history. Still, who wants to argue which evil is more evil?

    Great blog, by the way.

  2. Bring on the chickens! « Let’s you and him fight Says:

    […] those who claim in late, this is a series about sexual morality in comic books. Part 1 dealt with domestic assault, sexual assault and sexual morality. It claimed that sexual assault in […]

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